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Disability advocates, parents want transparency when a student is restrained

MADISON (WKOW) — Disability advocates and parents are pushing for more transparency from school districts when a student acts out in class.

A bill would change how teachers and the Department of Public Instruction report and track incidents of seclusion and restraint involving a student. Under current law, DPI is not required to track these and schools don’t have to inform parents.

While attending kindergarten and elementary school in the early 2000s, Molly Immendorf of Madison said her son William was often teased by students because he was on the Autism spectrum.

She explains at times this led William to act out, and when things escalated, teachers would place him in a room by himself and at times physically restrain him.

“I mean it was crazy to think my kid was isolated and secluded within his first month of school, but that was only the first time,” said Immendorf.

Immendoft said this happened multiple times to her son.

This type of restraint is now only permitted if there’s an imminent risk to others’ safety after Wisconsin ACT 125 passed into law in 2011. However, Immendorf and other disability advocates want more transparency. 

Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin family ties and Wisconsin FACETS found in the 2013-2014 school year 20,131 incidents occurred involving seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools. A large portion of those, 80%, involved students with disabilities. 

Madison Attorney Jeffery Spitzer-Resnick said too often these incidents fall under the radar.

“I represent a lot of parents who feel guilt-ridden when they find out this has been happening to their children for a long, long time and they didn’t know about it,” said Spitzer-Resnick.

A proposal at the capitol would force the DPI to track these and require schools to inform parents when and if their child was secluded or restrained. The bill would also require districts to update staff training on how to calm students before they become violent. 

Immendorf said if this was implemented when her son was in school, now 22, it could have helped her correct her son’s behavior. 

“Finding out after the fact and whether something had happened and never seeing any reports about it,” Immendorf said.

The proposal has bipartisan support and held its first public committee hearing on Tuesday.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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